Duck and Cover, Growing Up in the Atomic Age by William C. Philips
Some scholars argue that the Atomic Age began with the first atomic explosion and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since that time frame neatly brackets all the stories found here, I’m not about to debate a pack of scholars and ruin a good subtitle, i.e., Growing Up in the Atomic Age. I wish to make it clear, however, that I had nothing to do with either event. For one thing, I was born in 1947, two years after the first atomic bomb test. And while I was in Washington, D.C., when the Soviet Union collapsed, I had other things on my mind.
Of the thirty-three chapters in this memoir, twenty-one of them have at least one boot firmly cemented in the 1950s, so, for the most part, Duck and Cover stands as a personal history of that era. While this admission may alarm younger readers, let me put your mind at rest by saying that I never start a single sentence with, “Kids today don’t…” or, “Young people today should…” or any sentence that blames the young for not being old. I have no animosity toward your generation; in fact, at the age of seventy-four, I wish I could throw off the aches and pains of an old man and join your ranks–even if it means wearing my baseball hat backward. If I have any gripes, they’re against my generation. Specifically, the ones who say, “Kids today don’t…” and “Young people today should…”
Many who lived in the 1950s, or wished they had, see it as a Golden Age. It truly was a Golden Age for television, but only because TV was still a novelty. In the Philips’ house, television brought our family together mainly because we couldn’t afford two TVs and the screen was so small that we had to sit shoulder to shoulder. When not watching our old TV, which Dad bought used, we watched the TV repairman work on it. To many families, TV repairs were so frequent that repairmen became honorary member of the family. Only a child of the ’50s can say, as I can, “Bill Deamon was our TV repairman.”
Some old fogies whine about the bad influence of today’s TV shows, but to my knowledge, not once did Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones encourage kids to wreck their TVs. Readers of a certain age know which ’50s show I’m talking about—Winky Dink and You. Numerous times during Saturday morning episodes, Winky and his dog, Woofer, would find themselves in peril and pleading with their young audience to save them. The catch was that parents had to fork over 50 cents for a piece of transparent vinyl, called a “magic drawing screen,” and stick it to the TV screen before Winky came on. Kids could save Winky from danger by using ordinary crayons on the vinyl screen to draw in a bridge, a ladder, or whatever it took to help the boy and his dog. I know you’re way ahead of me on this, so I’ll be brief—not every parent bought the “magic screen” or even knew they needed one, but most kids had crayons. So in many homes, Winky and Woofer survived, but future TV viewing was seen through a waxy haze.